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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Tamil Language & Literature > Thamizh Literature Through the Ages - Preface > 1. Introduction > 2. The Sangam (Academy) period. > 3. The Didactic Period > 4. The Era of the Thamizh Epics > 5. The Era of Devotional Period > 6. Epics of the ChOzha Period > 7. Grammar and Lexicography > 8. Philosophical Literary Period > 9. Thamizh purANangaL and Minor Poems > 10. IslAmic and Christian Contributions to Thamizh Literature > 11. Modern Period > 12. Present Situation > 13. Conclusion
Dr. C.R. Krishnamurti,
10. islAmic and Christian Contributions to Thamizh Literature
10.1. islAm (இஸ்லாம்)
The contribution of Jain and Buddhist monks and scholars to the development of Thamizh has already been discussed (Chapter 4). The five great epics (ஐம்பெருங்காப்பியங்கள்) written by these scholars continue to be the pride and joy of the Thamizh people. Thamizh language was also enriched significantly by foreigners who came into India as missionaries, traders and tourists.
As early as the 3rd century B.C. Alexander the Great from Greece invaded India but his army was too tired to move into the southern peninsular region. Nevertheless the word, yavanarkaL (யவனர்கள்) is found in PathiRRup patthu (பதிற்றுப்பத்து) and refers to the Ionians or Greeks. The excavations in arisimEdu (அரிசிமேடு) near Pondicherry ((புதுச்சேரி) also point to the yavana settlements.
Around the 9th and 10th century A.D. Persian invaders entered India from the north west region through the Kyber pass and eventually established the Kulji and Lodhi dynasties. The rule of the Moghul emperors extended to a significant part of India including the south. Though the Thamizh region was not directly under the Moghul rule at any time, the increased movement of troops, artists and scholars between the north and the south exerted direct as well as indirect influences of the islAmic traditions on the culture and language in the Thamizh region.
Even during this point in history, it is a credit to the secular attitudes of the Thamizh people that they kept an open mind and welcomed changes that would enrich their language. Probably ThiruvaLLuvar's advice that 'Regardless of which source one learns from, it is wise to learn the truth' did not fall on deaf ears. (எப்பொருள் யார்யார்வாய்க்கேட்பினும் அப்பொருள் மெய்ப்பொருள் காண்ப தறிவு). Thamizh people did not hesitate to borrow Arabic words which later became an integral part of the language (சபாசு, சலாம்). The Arabic medical system, yunAni (யுனானி) complemented the Sittha Vaitthiyam (சித்தவைத்தியம்) already in vogue in the Thamizh region.
The islAmic influence on arts, architecture, music and dance was evident in every segment of the society. Conversely people who converted to islam continued to maintain their affinity to Thamizh traditions especially the language. As in the case of Sanskrit, scholars became proficient both in Thamizh and Arabic. On the spiritual side, some of the concepts preached by the prophet Mohammed, such as the formlessness of God, the nobility of compassion and alms giving, did appeal to everyone transcending religious boundaries. People who converted to islAm imbibed the teachings of prophet Mohammed and were famous for their philanthropy and willingness to share. The most significant feature of the islAmic impact was evident in the field of Thamizh literature which is relevant to our discussion.
At a time when the poverty stricken Thamizh pulavarkaL (புலவர்கள்) were struggling for their very existence for want of patronage, a Thamizh philanthropist belonging to the islAmic faith, Syed KhAdhar (சையத் காதர்) came to their rescue. He lived in the 17th century in the town, KAyal and was popularly known as KAyal Thurai SIthakkAthi (காயல்துரை சீதக்காதி). The Thamizh region was encountering a severe drought and the pulavars' life became still more miserable. SIthakkAthi was the only person who came out to support them under those difficult conditions.
The following poem by PatikkAsup pulavar (படிக்காசுப்புலவர்) says: "When a plate of rice was as expensive as a plate of gold, SIthakkAthi was the only person who had the courage and conviction to come forward to feed them despite several oppositions".
When SIthakkAthi died, the highest encomium was paid to him by PatikkAsup pulavar: "unless SIthakkAthi is reborn and comes back alive there is no salvation for Thamizh pulavarkaL".
Similar sentiments were expressed, when SIthakkAthi died, by n^amasivAyap pulavar (நமச்சிவாயப்புலவர்) who said " What does it matter whether Saraswathi, Lakshmi or indeed anybody else continued to live or not?; the moment, the great SIthakkAthi died Thamizh literature died along with him".
10.1.2. SIRAp purANam (சீறாப்புராணம்)
Recognizing that the life and teachings of the prophet Mohammed were in Arabic, and the details were not easily be accessible to Thamizh people belonging to the islAmic faith, SIthakkAthi (சீதக்காதி) commissioned a Thamizh scholar, umaRup pulavar (உமறுப்புலவர்) to write a detailed account of the biography and spiritual philosophy of the prophet. The great Thamizh epic, SIRAp purANam (சீறாப்புராணம்) (SIRA=biography) written by umaRup pulavar is one of the highly respected Thamizh literary works. The singular beauty of SIRAp purANam is that, besides being rich in Thamizh literary style, it captures the spiritual philosophy of the prophet in an appealing manner to all readers.
It is significant to point that even in this essentially religious work, the author, umaRup pulavar could not help displaying his Thamizh background. Like his counter parts of other religions, umaRup pulavar followed the conventional Thamizh literary formats in his epic. In describing the Arabian peninsula, where the religious events took place, one cannot miss the Thamizh landscape with which the author was familiar. The other noteworthy feature of SIRAp purANam is that it is filled with deep devotional appeal befitting the Thamizh tradition. In the very first invocation poem, umaRup pulavar described the omnipresence and omnipotence of the Absolute Being in a heart rendering fashion:
Unfortunately SIthakkAthi died before SIRAp purANam could be completed. The project was then supported by another patron, Abdul KAsim MaraikkAyar (அப்துல் காசிம்மரைக்காயர்). SIRAp purANam contains 5027 songs. After umaRup pulavar's death, it was left to PanI Mohammed MaraikkAyar (பனீமுகமது மரைக்காயர்) to finish the project with additions referred to as Chinna SIRA (சின்னச்சீறா)
10.1.3. KuNankudi MasthAn (குணங்குடி மஸ்தான்)
His given name is SulthAn Abdul KAdir (சுல்தான்அப்துல்காதிர்). He became an ascetic and was well known for his literary proficiency as well as for his religious equanimity. This is evident from the tributes paid to him by his peers belonging to the Hindu faith. KuNankudi n^Athar PathiRRup patthan^thAthi(குணங்குடிநாதர் பதிற்றுப்பத்தந்தாதி). written by ayyAswAmi MuthaliyAr (ஐயாசாமிமுதலியார்) is an example of such a tribute.
10.1.4. Another Thamizh literary work, considered to be the one of the best in the century is (நெஞ்சில்நிறைந்தநபிமணி) by SirAjpak kavirAyar (சிராஜபாக்கவிராயர்f). This work contains 3663 kaNNikaL (கண்ணிகள்)and deals with the teachings of n^abikaL n^Ayakam (நபிகள் நாயகம்).
Scholars from the islAmic faith are held in very esteem by the Thamizh literary community. Over the centuries, scholars and poets belonging to the islmic faith had become an integral part of the Thamizh culture not only through literary contributions on topics related to their religion but also by their deep appreciation of the literary niceties of the Thamizh language per se. In recent years, the critics and commentaries by Justice M.M. ismAil (இஸ்மாயில்) on various aspects of Kampa rAmAyaNam are illustrious examples of how love for the language can overcome religious boundaries. Let us hope that his leadership will be followed by scholars of different castes and creeds so that the Thamizh language may help build a society in which peace and harmony prevail.
When Alexander the Great, the King of Macedonia, invaded India in 325 B.C. his ambition was to establish a vast empire and extend the Greek civilization as far east as possible. It was not his intention to spread the gospel or learn more about other cultures. With his own army revolting and wanting to go back, he could fulfill his ambition only partly.
The first European missionary to land in the Thamizh region is said to be the Franciscan Giovanni de Monte Corvino (1247-1328A.D.) who stayed in Madras for a year in 1291 A.D. St. Francis Xavier arrived on the west coast as the Papal legate in 1542 but his Thamizh knowledge was limited to the memorization of a few prayers. These and other details of early Christian missionary activities have recently been reviewed by James (1991). The Thamizh community will ever be grateful to the Christian missionaries for their outstanding contributions in the areas of health, medicine, education, social service and rural development. More pertinent to our discussion is their role in the development of Thamizh literature.
As in the case of other religious groups, their primary mandate was to popularize the Christian faith among the people. When the missionaries from foreign countries arrived in India, therefore, they faced the problem of first communicating with the local people in their native language before they could undertake evangelism. Some of the missionaries not only succeeded in their attempts to learn Thamizh but also achieved a high level of proficiency to enable them to introduce desirable changes in the linguistic style which are still in vogue. The accomplishments of the missionaries and their contribution to the growth of Thamizh literature are discussed below. For a review see MInAtchi sun^tharan (மீனாட்சிசுந்தரன்f)(1974).
10.2.1. The Italian Jesuit, Rev. Robert de Nobili (நொபிலி) (1577-1656 A.D.) arrived in India in 1605 A.D. and founded the Mathurai Mission. He chose to lead the life of a south Indian Brahmin, abstaining from meat and alcohol much to the surprise and annoyance of his own church. He learned Thamizh and Sanskrit and even changed his name to (தத்துவகுரு) (philosophy teacher) to justify his love for his new role. He was responsible for introducing the prose style (உரைநடை) in Thamizh. He has written two books, Athma n^irNayam (ஆத்மநிர்ணயம்)and GnAnOpathEsa kANdam (ஞானோபதேச காண்டம்)
Beschi was an Italian Jesuit who arrived in Mathurai in 1710. A scholar in every respect, Beschi was proficient in French, Greek, Poruguese, Latin, Hebrew and Sanskrit. He was an outstanding grammarian and an intuitive lexicographer. Therefore it did not take him long before he made his mark in the field of Thamizh literature. He adopted the name, Dhairiya n^Athan = (Constantius) (தைரியநாதன்).
10.2.2.1. According to MInAtchi (மீனாட்சி)(1985) Thamizh was conventionally written without word or sentence spacing and without graphic indication of santhi (சந்தி).. Recognizing that the lack of spacing made construction of metrical dictionaries in Thamizh impossible, Beschi was the first to introduce the European concept of dictionary where the words are alphabetically arranged. Up to this point, the n^ikaNdus (நிகண்டு) in Thamizh were arranged in the poetic format using the subject matter(பொருள்) as titles. His SathurakarAthi (சதுரகராதி) thus became the first Thamizh dictionary in the new format.
10.2.2.2. Some revisions in Thamizh letters are also ascribed to Beschi. In the older Thamizh, the short (குறில்), (எ) and (ஒ) had a dot on them while the long(நெடில்), (ஏ) did not have the lower line. These were changed to the present format at Beschi's suggestion.
10.2.2.3. Beschi is recognized for his analysis of the differences in spoken (வழக்கு) and written (literary) Thamizh formats. He had also laid down grammatical rules for the two (செந்தமிழ் இலக்கணம) and (கொடுந்தமிழ் இலக்கணம்). His grammatical text, ThonnUl ViLakkam (தொன்னூல்விளக்கம்) is considered to be a minor TholkAppiam, probably the highest compliment in those days to a foreigner !
10.2.2.4. ThEmpAvaNi (தேம்பாவணி)
Beschi is well remembered for his famous Christian epic, ThEmpAvaNi (தேம்பாவணி) which contains 3615 poems. It deals with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ which are described in a moving manner. The high regard Beschi enjoys in the Thamizh community may be attributed to the fact that he not only became proficient in Thamizh but also captured the true spirit of the Thamizh people in all his literary works. Even in a purely religious work, ThEmpAvaNi, he had taken the trouble of ensuring that the Thamizh background of the readers was kept in mind. This becomes evident in the descriptions of the landscape and in his mastery of introducing concepts from ThirukkuRaL (திருக்குறள்f) and Kampa rAmAyaNam (கம்பராமாயணம்). For example, the similarities in the invocation between Kampa rAmAyaNam and ThEmpAvaNi are given below:
The inscriptions of the ten commandments (வேதக்கட்டளைகள்)on the rocks were described by Beschi in a moving fasion in the following two poems in ThEmpAvaNi:
Another poem in ThEmpAvaNi which is bound to move even the stone hearted is the way Beschi described the feelings of Jesus Christ viewing the cross as a comfortable bed:
Beschi's literary policy was to spread the gospel which he described in the following poem in ThEmpAvaNi:
Love themes are very meager in ThEmpAvaNi which may be ascribed to the fact that the author himself was an ascetic. To appeal to the Thamizh community he had also changed some biblical names to the Thamizh equivalents, e.g. Joseph (vq[f), John (கருணையன்), Isaac (நகுலன்). The title of VIra mAmunivar (வீரமாமுனிவர்)was conferred on him by the Thamizh scholars in recognition of his literary achievement.
10.2.2.5. He has translated ThirukkuraL into Latin. His other works include: Thiruk KAvalUrk kalampakam (திருக்காவலூர்க்கலம்பகம்) and KitthEri ammAL ammAnai (கித்தேரி அம்மாள்அம்மானை). The literary works in the prose style are: ParamArttha Kuruvin kathai (பரமார்த்தகுருவின்கதை)) VEdhiyar ozhukkam (வேதியர்ஒழுக்கம்), Ganak kaNNAdi (ஞானக்கண்ணாடி), VEda ViLakkam (வேதவிளக்கம்) and BEtha maRutthal (பேதமறுத்தல்).
10.2.3. Caldwell (கால்டுவெல்) (1814-1891) was a English missionary with proficiency in a number of Dravidian languages. He had written a book in English comparing the similarities and differences between the Dravidian group of languages. He is noted for his analysis of the etymological derivation of words used in different Dravidian languages. His Thamizh literary works include GnAnak kOil ஞானக்கோயில்) and n^aRkaruNait thiyAnamAlai (நற்கருணைத்தியானமாலை).
10.2.4. George Uglow Pope (ஜி.யு. போப்) (1820-1908)
Pope, an English missionary, is one of the most popular scholars in the Thamizh region and his work is very familiar even to the present generation. His translation of several Thamizh works into English earned him an ever lasting place in the hearts of the Thamizh community. ThirukkuRaL (திருக்குறள்), ThiruvAchakam (திருவாசகம்), n^AlatiyAr (நாலடியார்) and sections of PuRa n^AnURu (புறநானூறு) and PuRap PoruL veNpA (புறப்பொருள்வெண்பா) are some of the literary works which are now available in English. He was a living example of ThiruvaLLuvar's ideal of a great man: (செயற்கரிய செய்வர் பெரியாரசிறியர் செயற்கரிய செய்கலாதார்).. His genuine love for the Thamizh language would be exemplified by his ultimate desire that his epitaph should read, (ஓருதமிழ் மாணவன்) (A Thamizh Student).
10.2.5. Other Thamizh Scholars
Besides the missionaries from foreign countries, many Thamizh persons belonging to the Christian faith have also exploited the richness of their language to spread the gospel in an effective manner. The literary endeavours of three such individuals are discussed below:
10.2.5.1. VEtha n^Ayaka SAsthiriyAr (வேதநாயக சாஸதிரியார்)(1774-1864)
He had the unique advantage of literary proficiency in Thamizh as well as the association with western theological experts. His literary policy as mentioned in his own words was to sing His glory and nothing else:
பராபரன் அல்லாத பாட்டறியான் எம்
In all his poems he employed a very simple folk style coupled with an appealing music. In the following poem he said " When You and the scriptures are there, when I have my mouth to sing and my mind at Your disposal, when I have the love of all Your devotees, when You are there to look after me like a mother, why should I suffer?".
நீயிருக்க வேத நெறியிருக்க நெஞ்சமுற
In order to convey the Biblical messages to the ordinary people, SAsthiriyAr followed the example of PAmpAtti Sitthar (பாம்பாட்டிசித்தர்). The Sitthar's poem and SAsthiriyAr's poem describing the Biblical anecdote pertaining to the serpent are given below:
நாதர்முடி மேலிருக்கும் நாகப்பாம்பே
காவாதி தோட்டத்தில் வந்த பாம்பு - அது
He had been aptly described as (கிறிஸ்துவஇசைப்பாவலர்) by the Christian community based on his tremendous capacity to use the three major attributes of the Thamizh language (இயல், இசை, நாடகம்) for reaching to the people. John Samuel (1978) had reviewed the literary contributions of VEtha n^Ayaka SAsthiriyAr.
10.2.5.2. KrishNap PiLLai, H.A. (கிருஷணப்பிள்ளை)
A staunch VaishNavaite till age 30, KrishNap PiLLai embraced Christianity and was baptized in 1858. He was a contemporary of isaip pulavar Vethan^Ayaka SAsthiriyAr (வேதநாயகசாஸதிரியார்) Mutthamizh Vitthakar MAyUram VEthan^Ayakam PiLLai (முத்தமிழ் வித்தகர் மாயூரம் வேதநாயகம் பிள்ளை) MahA VidwAn MInAtchi Sun^tharam PiLLai (மகாவித்துவான் மீனாட்சி சுந்தரம் பிள்ளை) and RAo BahadUr Sun^tharam PiLLai (ராவ் பகதூர் சுந்தரம் பிள்ளை) with all of whom he had personal friendships. Born with a natural gift for music, KrishNap PiLLai had followed the traditional Thamizh literary format in his writings on the spiritual aspects of Christianity.
Like the great authors of his time, KrishNap PiLLai had spelled out his
literary policy (பொருண்மை) very clearly at the outset. The uniqueness of
KrishNap PiLLai lies in the fact that, though he did not hesitate to borrow the
style of ChinthAmaNi�s sweetness or the musically sounding versification of
Kampa rAmAyaNam and Periya PurANam, he deviated from the convention of employing
love themes and descriptions in his works. He proved that, in a literary work
devoted to spiritual discussion there was no need for introducing romantic love
between man and woman.
(போற்றித் திரு அகவல், இரட்சணிய யாத்திரிகம், இரட்சணிய மனோகரம்).
His religious equanimity is illustrated by the following lines from (இரட்சணிய யாத்திரிகம்) :
இருதலைக் கொள்ளியுற்ற வெறும்பென வேகு மார்க்கம்
Similar sentiments were expressed by him in his work in prose titled (இரட்சணிய சமயநிர்ணயம்).
i) Literary Policy.
In his invocation he says � Instead of wasting my time in frivolous pursuits, I will write spiritual poems resembling rubies from the snake and avoid discussions on sensual pleasures( சிற்றின்பம்f). My writings will be a remedy from the All Preserving Almighty (ஆத்தும ரக்ஷணை வழங்குமோர்மருந்து). . This may come as a surprise to those who are led to believe that explicit display of love themes is the sole indicator of a progressive society.
வெற்று நேரப் போக்காய்புகல் வினோதமுமன்று
ii) In KrishNap PiLLai's poems, one could not help notice that, in pure devotion and absolute surrender to the Supreme, one is automatically elevated to a higher level of human perception. Under these conditions, minor differences in rituals and modes of worships become irrelevant. In the two poems below the author depicts his complete surrender to Jesus Christ.
சிந்திக்க நெஞ்சடியேன் சென்னியிறைஞ்சக் கரங்கள்
கள்ளமுறுங் கடையேனுங் கடைத்தேறப் பெருங்கருணை
iii) To describe the graceful utterances (சொல்வண்ணம்)of Jesus Christ, KrishNap PiLLai has chosen to adopt Kampar�s description of rAman�s feet in the akalikaip patalam (அகலிகைப்படலம்) of Kampa rAmAyaNam. This shows his open mindedness and his regard for Kampar. Thus he earned the title of 'Christian Kampar'.
iv) Absolute surrender to the Supreme Being and repentance for one�s past actions are common to all religions. The manner in which KrishNap PiLLai had skillfully used Thirun^vukkarasar's (திருநாவுக்கரசர்) ThEvAram (தேவாரம்) style in expressing his feelings towards Jesus Christ had rendered his poems appealing to all religious groups in the Thamizh community.
An excellent review on KrishNap PiLLai's literary works has been published by SelvarAj (1978).
10.2.5.3. VEthan^Ayam PiLLai (வேதநாயகம்பிள்ளை) (1826-1889)
He was a lawyer by profession and was employed as a judge in the civil service. He studied Thamizh under MahA VidwAn MInAtchi sun^tharam PiLLai (மகாவித்துவான் மீனாட்சிசுந்தரம்பிள்ளை).. It is to be noted that, in those days, one will not be readily accepted by the stalwarts of the Thamizh fraternity until the latter are fully convinced that one is extremely good. VEthan^Ayakam PiLLai did not follow the footsteps of his mentor in his own literary style. He believed in a simple style so that people could understand the subject matter better. He possessed a tremendous sense of humor and was proficient in English and music. As a civil servant he was well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of various members of the society. His literary policy therefore had specific objectives.
As a Christian he wanted to translate the Biblical teachings into simple Thamizh which would have an impact on ordinary people. With his knowledge of English, experience in professional career and sense of humor, he was well suited to write satires on erring officials and greedy elements in the society. People who were rather tired of listening to purANic stories were receptive to these new formats in prose (novels) which became very popular. He translated the legendary unintelligible legal jargons and laws into Thamizh for the benefit of the common man. Finally he made use of his musical talents to compose poems (கீர்த்தனைகள்) about religion, social reforms and a variety of topics relevant to the time.
His literary works include two in the an^thAthi style (திருவருள்அந்தாதி, தேவமாதாஅந்தாதி), two devotional poems (திருவருள்மாலை, தேவதோத்திரமாலை), and a few musicals (சர்வசமயசமரசக்கீர்த்தனை, சத்தியவேதக்கீர்த்தனை). The novels which brought him fame are: (பிரதாபமுதலியார் சரித்திரம், சுகுணசுந்தரி சரித்திரம்). The last two were milestones in the history of Thamizh literature.
The following poem is an example of VEthan^Aykam PiLLai's satirical verses
about the legal profession and corrupt officials:
To this list of scholars belonging to the Christian religion should be added the name of Solomon PAppiAh(சாலோமோன்பாப்பையா), who is currently extremely popular in Thamizh n^Adu because of his proficiency in Kampa rAmAyaNam. There is hardly a meeting or conference on Kampa rAmAyNam in which he is not a scheduled speaker. The series of talks he is giving on ThirukkuRaL on the television bears testimony to his communicative skills and perception of literary niceties.
The examples of Thamizh devotional poems from the two religions discussed above show that there are more things in common among them than in their diversity. Even the Thamizh phraseology used to express the ecstasy associated with communion with the Divine is similar. The difference is the location of these spiritual outbursts (temple, mosque or church) and in the specific name given to the Absolute Being. Inasmuch as Thamizh was the medium in all the cases, it is pertinent to ask the question, at the expense of exposing my own naivety, whether religious doctrines and dogmas exist for the sake of the people or whether the people exist to safeguard religion and support the creeds that thrive on their differences ? Certainly the responsibility falls on the shoulders of religous heads to recognize this elementary concept and preach it to their followers to save humanity from needless social tensions.